Skip to main content

tv   Book TV After Words  CSPAN  July 4, 2013 9:00am-10:01am EDT

9:00 am
left-leaning con enus developed across the western world after world war ii and that a counterrevolution representing a new era began in 1979 with the election of margaret thatcher as british prime minister and the overthrow of the shah in iran. the program is about an hour. ..
9:01 am
done something very unusual with this pock. you have managed to do in a way the impossible, of linking together in one place, margaret thatcher and ayatollah khomeni. as character, in unified mayor tiff about the counterrevolution nary year of 1979. your very provocative thesis this was a year in which basically the backlash or the return of markets and religion to global politics in a big way signal ad counter revolution towards the reactions of the earlier postwar era. how did you come up with that? who could possibly write a book, margaret thatcher, ping, ayatollah khomeni, afghan
9:02 am
communists and iranian revolutionaries have in common, never mind pope john paul the second and resurgence of religion in a polish national life which is a whole fascinating part of the book? how did you come up with putting these things together. >> guest: had a loot to do with my reporting in afghanistan after 9/11. you were there too. if memory serves me we actually stayed in the same house for a while. you were with "washington post." i was with "newsweek." the house struck me at the time. it had the shag carpeting and light fixtures with a ranch style house. just like kind of houses we were growing up in the '70s when i was a kid. i was kind of struck by that. when you went outside in kabul, driving with 1970s american cars with eight-track players in them if you know what they were. ministry government buildings were built in the 1970s.
9:03 am
when you went to the bookstore in kabul i found great postcards and books about afghanistan in the 1970s. what showed that afghanistan was up-and-coming country in the 1970s. it was really going somewhere. then at the end of the 1970s wham, it hit as wall and history starts running in reverse as it were. the more time i spent in afghanistan the more time i felt myself wondering about that. we shouldn't take this as self-evident thing when an entire country goes into reverse and during my reporting over the past couple years i began to notice similar things in other places i began connecting the dots and began thinking what happened at the end of the 1970s and i realized if you look at it globally it is a very, very important moment. we tend to focus in the united states on '60s. western europeans tend to focus on the '60s but if you look at
9:04 am
it from a global perspective i don't think it looks quite that way. my book was kind of an exploration, an attempt to figure out why this was so. >> host: let's take the five. you have afghanistan as you mentioned. i always that house to me looked like the "brady bunch." literally a copy of the house in the the brady bunch with open staircase. the family would come down in the opening scene of the "brady bunch." it was previously occupied before "newsweek" took over by al qaeda leaders, at least what we were told. made it seem more glamorous. that is a great point you make. afghanistan and the communist takeover of afghanistan which happened in 1979. china, the rise of show ping and you are return to the markets and mao and cultural revolution. poland as we mentioned.
9:05 am
the election of the polish pope, john paul ii and return to the homeland and precursor of the solidarity movement. great britain, the election of margaret thatcher and real tumult over the british economy that has been really lost as part of the historical narrative of britain after after thatcher. i'm looking forward to coming after that. number five the one most people think of first when they think of 1979, the iranian revolution and toppling of the shah and the hostage crisis in 1979. wow, that is awful lot of ground to cover. let's start with thatcher. there are huge out pourings of tribute to the thatcher on occasion of her death. magazine covers and revisiting. >> host: it is always a
9:06 am
challenge. you want to show why somebody is worth knowing about in the first place, right? there are revision it histories of thatcher. people correcting misperceptions about her. you have to establish why she is important in the first place. you have to people wouldn't dispute she was immensely important. like a my important figure, transformative figure, she yen -- generate ad lot of myths. we think of her, american conservatives think her as icon of conservatism. guess what? she was in favor of national health insurance. she never seriously tried to dismantle the national health system in britain because she knew how popular it was. she voted for the law when she was in parliament. she voted for the law decriminalizing homosexuality in great britain. never interfered with gun control. when she had a chance, she voted for abortion. the social issues which britains are sometimes very different
9:07 am
opinions than american conservatives she doesn't look really like a traditional conservative at all. one. most interesting stories her relationship with ronald reagan. there is no question she and reagan were very close. they really adored each other. but they were both very intense and intent when it came to defending the national interests of their respective countries. make no mistake, margaret thatcher even when it came to ronald reagan was not shy about defending her national interests. >> host: she wasn't shy about much, right? really on the economy in many ways her legacy rises or falls according to your account of it? >> guest: yes. for example, we live now in a world where it's taken for granted that capital can flow across boundaries with almost no barriers at all. one of the very first things she did when she became prime minister, she dismantled capital controls in great britain. there was a period in britain when you wanted to leave t
9:08 am
country you would fill out a form and give you 50francs or something going to france. they had this bureaucratic procedure. she did away with that that was important with what came later. big bang, deregulation project that turned london into european and global financial center. we take all the stuff for granted, today, right? we assume this is a given. we assume that big companies should not, multinational corporations shouldn't be opened by government, right? it this is another legacy of hers i think endures to this day. other parts of her legacy perhaps haven't endured because we face different conditions. austerity is a good example. she was very, very austere in her financial policies. those sorts of policies are really coming under attack a lot nowadays. i think economically she was hugely important in shaping this
9:09 am
market-oriented world we live in today but, you know, by no means have all aspectses of her legacy remained in place. >> host: it is striking how much she is invoked as patron or the modern patron of austerity politics and it may well be a reason her successor, david cameron, the current leader of great britain embarked upon that path, that painful path as a response to the financial crisis of 2008. she has been much invoked even if actually the conditions of today bear almost no resemblance to kind of massive labor strikes and heavily nationalized economy she was doing with in 1979. >> guest:ctly. people forget, for example, she did reduce the punitively high rate of personal income tax in britain. at that time it was 83%. incomprehensible, right? no country i'm aware has a personal income tax rate like that today but at the same time she raised taxes on consumption
9:10 am
because she believed in balanced budgets. she was willing to raise taxes to make the books balanced. in this she was quite different from ronald reagan who, we know allowed enormous deficits to build up. this was quite a source of friction between the two of them. but when american conservatives now seek to position themselves, you know, as part of her legacy i really wonder if they're paying attention to that part of it. she was such a budget hawk. she was not averse to raising taxes to make the books balance. >> host: that is one of the things that comes through very strikingly in your history of early part of her tenure the willingness to use all the tools that she saw in the tool kit of government and that certainly is not the direction that american conservatives on capitol hill have gone in dealing with this latest budget crisis here. sometimes history gives us lessons and sometimes we don't learn them, right? >> guest: yes. >> host: that brings me
9:11 am
right to kind of two of the real lightning rod subjects of your book, iran and afghanistan. those are both countries very much front page news in the united states today in terms of policies frankly feel stuck in many ways we're dealing with the legacy of the tumult of 1979 in both of those countries but frankly i'm not sure we have come up with a better way of negotiating with the iranians than we did at the disastrous time of the hostage-taking in afghanistan. have we learned the lessons of the last superpower to find itself enmeshed in a war there? it's hard to say that when our war in afghanistan is now the longest war in u.s. history by a long shot. let's start with iran, for example. what's surprised you as the delved into the history of this, something we meal like we know and i think you turned up a lot of things we probably didn't
9:12 am
know or had forgotten? >> guest: i think the most fascinating thing when i delved into the history of the iranian revolution precisely this blend of the old and the new. one historian calls it revolutionary traditionalism, right? it was a revolution. it overthrew the shah but it was a conservative revolution. it was a revolution staged in part by men in white beards, turbans and they allied themselves at the beginning of that revolution with non-islamist democrats, secular, in some cases nationalist democrats and the forces of the left. ayatollah khomeni was very smart in the way he talked like a leftist. he loved talking about imperialism and cologne alism and fight against american hogemeny and very good incorporating that sort of rhetoric which played a huge role in bringing the leftists
9:13 am
and the other revolutionaries into his coalition. when he didn't need them anymore he discarded them but even today, i would say that the iranian system still has some very interesting characterrics that you can trace directly back to the revolution. you have this combination of an elected parliament, an elected president which is the legacy of the democratic revolution shall we say? and then you have the supreme leader who is really appointed by the other clerics and who exercises ultimate authority. reason today, more than 30 years after the revolution we still see a power struggle between the president, the people who support him, and the supreme leader. there have been power struggles like this almost since the day the islamic republic was founded. never quite seems to come to rest. i'm fascinating by the way that legacy ayatollah khomeni established in 1979 continues to shape that country today very,
9:14 am
very clearly. >> host: that is particularly relevant with another presidential election coming up in a few weeks in june. i think you will see the tension as well as americans continue to struggle with question of, who really makes decisions in today's islamic republic? who can we negotiate with? that is another striking thing was, the internal american divisions at the highest levels of the u.s. government over how we should approach this new, much more threatening iran and, from the very beginning you chronicle how secretary of state cyrus vans had one point of view. much more favor negotiating a more conciliatory stance. the national security advisor to president carter took a much harder line. if you change the names you could be talking writing a story on today's front page about the internal divisions within the united states government over
9:15 am
how to approach iran. >> guest: yeah. of course i think those things are very s today. the thing that was new then, of course, nobody ever encountered a islamic revolutionary movement like this. people didn't know what to make of it. people at the time they were looking for all kind of comparisons. for example, people were comparing ayatollah khomeni to gandhi. what other comparison do you have? he is a religious leader who lid an independent struggle. it was pretty much that simple. when you look at this policy feud, if that isn't putting too much on it between secretary of state and the national security advisor at the time when you see is competing views what this whole thing means. what is going on here. it was very hard to that understand at the time. the word islamist didn't properly exist at the time. this idea of islamic revolutionary, islamic fundamentalist was really pretty
9:16 am
new. >> host: i want to follow up just as historical point it is striking to recall in historical terms what hole the hostage-taking of the american diplomats played in resolving that internal power struggle. in fact that was a key moment which this tension, this balance between a more elected democratic form of government and a harder line clerical form of government resolved in favor of the clerics because of the internal political success of taking the american hostages. they used that in a way americans wouldn't be familiar with. >> guest: exactly. that's another thing i wanted to examine in my book and quite naturally, understandably, rightly we americans tend to look at the hostage crisis from an american viewpoint. how could they possibly violate all the diplomatic laws and traditions by holding our diplomats hostage? people were understandably and write rightly exercised about this. people paid less attention to
9:17 am
how that facttoried into internal conflicts within the iranian revolutionary regime. khomeni very skillfully used the hostage crisis to secular liberal opponents branding them as agents of america and enshrined the principles of clerical rule. from then on he had no serious challengers. >> host: no, i think that is very striking. in terms of its present day relevance you make the point this being almost a key moment in creation moved earn political islamism as we know it. it sound a lot like what is going on in egypt these days. we're early into what is going to happen in egypt and what did the toppling of hosni mubarak's regime really mean for egypt. we don't really know yet. it certainly seems like you can see parallels between the rise of the muslim brotherhood and
9:18 am
what happened as there was sort of an early vac came and jostling for power between a whole bunch of different political factions in egypt, in the cairo revolution was driven by, a bunch of western-oriented democrats, small d, kid. they are not the ones who are in control now. i wonder if you saw echoes and resonance in the story of the revolution in iran? >> guest: well absolutely, susan, absolutely. i think what we're seeing right now is a process where the muslim brotherhood, now the muslim brotherhood which controls the presidency and the parliament in egypt is actually showing signs of cracking down on the judicial branch and putting in judges who are amenable to the muslim brotherhood. again this looks very much like iran at a certain stage of the revolution there as clerics were extending their control over everything. but i think the difference with egypt is that egypt is 30 years
9:19 am
later and we have the iranian, islamic republic of iran as an example of what fundamentalist state can look like. and it ain't necessarily so pretty, right? it is an economic basket case. very, very chaotic. very unstable. and so, even though the islamists right now are cementing their power over politics in egypt i wonder if they are going to go quite so far as the iranians have? i wonder if there isn't at least some extent to which that example deters them from absolute power. we'll see. right now it doesn't look very good. but of course a big difference is also that the people in charge in egypt now are not clerics. they are not members of a theocratic regime. they're just members of the muslim brotherhood who have appointed themselves to be the defenders of religious politics
9:20 am
in egypt. i think that also colors the situation somewhat differently. but for the moment of course it doesn't look very good. gerri: speaking of doesn't look very good, everything in a way is relative. we go from iran to afghanistan which has even more tragic narrative over the last 30 years and it really begins in many ways with those, soviet tanks rolling in to defend a regime they particularly didn't want to defend. i think that is a interesting takeaway from your recounting of sort of the sad history of coups and communist infighting that led to the soviet invasion in the first place. >> guest: that of course is a very important part of the story. you know when the british intervened in the 19th century, they intervened several times in afghanistan and you never really quite want to go into afghanistan. you always get drawn in against your will by the internal politics of the place. that's what happened to the british.
9:21 am
that's what happened to the soviets. in many respects that's what happened to us in 2000 one. i don't think anybody was that keen getting involved in afghanistan in 2000 one. we felt it was something we had to do. once we were there we couldn't leave. >> host: that is the key part. there was a sort of a consensus across the political spectrum the u.s. was going to do something in retaliation for the attacks of 9/11 but they had in mind something that was not going to involve a big footprint on the ground that would last a dozen years later and that's the part of getting sucked in by the dysfunctional politics and situation on the ground. >> guest: what fascinated me about the situation in afghanistan in '78 and '79 was just how different it was from what we face today. many things are radically different. there are no radical leftist parties or secular parties in afghanistan today. that has all been pretty much wiped out but in the 1970s those
9:22 am
were really the powerful forces in afghanistan. the president khan for much of the 1970s was secularist modernizer much like the shah of iran. then he was replaced in 197by afghan communists. they remodeled society according to their own utopian designs and they ran aground. the whole country row up against them. that's why the soviets had to come in. what is amazing that invasion and almost unending civil war that followed compounded by u.s. intervention in 2000 one and after has completely wiped out that old afghanistan we saw in the 60s and '70s really so radically different. i don't want to exaggerate it too much right? there were a lot of religious people in afghanistan at that time as well. moores on the country side were very conservative.
9:23 am
it has always been a conservative country. if you walked around kabul in the 1970s. you would see girls in skirts. see few women dressed in burkas. taking many visitors around to the booming tourist sites. it was radically, radically different place. one of the things i try to do in my books why it changed so radically. >> host: one of the most popular things i run on our website, foreign policy is a photos of afghanistan. people can't get enough, what are they? pictures of women in pencil skirts and snazzy "mad men" era furniture. >> guest: girl students. gerri: development projects and groovy record, hangout kind of clubs and stuff. and you know, there was a sense of afghanistan on a trajectory, a development trajectory. and actually in that period
9:24 am
before it started to go downhill, right, u.s. and soviet union were competing for influence in afghanistan. both of them were building big projects. the dam the united states built in the south and the tunnel that connected afghanistan's north with the capital in kabul. these were incredible, they were moving society forward in very significant ways. it has always been a very poor land-locked country but people are astonished to realize, it is such a thought experiment. there was an alternate trajectory that was possible for afghanistan. i do think we all become sort of like, historical determinists after the fact. that was inevitable, wasn't it? what i like about your book it actually forces us to get away from that kind of lazy habit of saying, yeah, sure, it always was this way. i think that's the core that people strike with that once upon a time in afghanistan photo essay. so quick question and then we'll
9:25 am
move on to the next, the next example. you and i both lived in russia. how dud come away of your study of the soviet engagement in afghanistan in terms of what role that conflict played in hastening the demise of the soviet union? are you one of those who think, no, it had to do with price of oil in the 1980s or do you think afghanistan hastened the soviet demise? >> guest: i'm one of those people who think the soviet demise had a lot of causes. i think it was a confluence of several big things. but i think afghanistan was indeed one of the biggest and one of the most important. it made live very difficult for the soviet military. it consumed enormous resources. just reform must resources. and not any less importantly i think it also changed the way that the soviet citizens saw
9:26 am
their own government, right? the government was forced to lie about a lot of the things it was doing. when dead soviet soldiers started coming home in zinc coffins. it was not widely publicized. they tried to keep it quiet. people knew it was happening. it did a lot to undermined the authority of the government itself among large swaths of the population. it more importantly central asian republics of the soviet union and very restive and turbulent the way they hadn't been before. 1979 is also by the way the year when the muslim population of the old seven yet union really began to overtake the european population of the old soviet union, a very interesting moment in soviet history. so certainly high oil prices and the arms race with united states, a lot of these other things i think conspired to make life very hard for the soviet regime. i certainly do think the war in afghanistan was a major, major
9:27 am
factor. >> so let's go to the other room of the soviet empire. in 1979 you had this really amazing speckel of a polish pope. not only was the first non-italian and western european in centuries, really it is your view that he started the series of earthquakes rolling that became the solidarity movement, that became sort of unraveling if you will of soviet dominance in eastern europe. what strikes you as fresh in the story of pope john paul ii? >> guest: well i think the thing that strikes me as particularly fresh is the way that pol is have talked, described the impact he had on them. it was not just the pride in a polish pope, right? he became pope in 197.
9:28 am
pols were extremely happy about that, needless to say. and the kremlin was extremely worried about it. but i think it has a great deal to do with the special qualities of john paul ii. he was really one of the most brilliant men to ever become pope. amazingly brilliant guy. he smoke many, many languages. he had two doctorates. he was an incredible figure. he combined the intellect with very easy, charismatic way of dealing with ordinary folks. he was a very fine parish priest because he did things with his parishioners. he went out and, you know, did sports with them and he attended their, confirmations for their children. he was very much involved in their lives. that is the kind of guy that he was. he was a remarkable, unique individual in the history of the papacy. i think that played a big role. the other big thing that was the
9:29 am
most interesting thing when i came back and looked at story again, was the role the pope's visit played to get pols to run their own country. when the pope arrived for a nine-day visit in 1179, the communist state basically said, all right, this is your show. we're not going to get involved in this. we'll provide security but you have to organize everything yourself. and pols rose to that task with great enthusiasm. they organized the trips. they organized, they managed the crowds. and for a lot of pols it was a revelation. they had grown up under the communist system. they were used to having the state do things for them. here they were organizing nine days of papal events where 11 million polls took to the streets and it went off without a hitch. that was a revelation for many pols that was a very important precondition for solidarity, the
9:30 am
independent trade union movement which came up the very next year. i don't think those two events are unrelated. >> religion as a crash course in practical politics as well as in opposition politics. can you make a linkage? do you think there is linkage between religious opposition to communist authority that the pope offered to pols and the religious opposition to the shah that the ayatollah offered to iranians? aren't those the same phenomenon or are they different? >> guest: i think they're different because the pope, for all of his conservatism and doctrinal matters was obsessed with human rights. john paul ii wrote quite extensively about human rights. he had suffered under both nazi occupation of poland and the stalinist period in poland. he was really quite obsessed. he built up an entire personal philosophical direction based on
9:31 am
the primacy of the human individual and human rights. ayatollah khomeni did not have a view like that. he had the view islam was everything and individual rights very often had to be superseded to that. so i think in that respect they were very, very fundamentally, if i may different. but there are some striking parallels and one of the interesting parallels is that both of these men were mystics. in some ways they were very unusual in their religious beliefs. john paul ii had an intense miss call relationship to christ and the virgin mary. he was not your ordinary, your ordinary priest. his beliefs went off into some really amazing and unconventional realms. ayatollah khomeni was practitioner of miss call beliefs, sort of things along the lines what we would call
9:32 am
sufism in sunni islam. other clerics said he was practitioner in very suspect ideas. one of the problems is mysticism can lead you to political activism. it man make awe political activist showing you perfectibility of man. there are a bum of different things that are very complex. if you think you have a direct line to god which is what mystics think, you might think you have a greater ability to greater power to shape events in the human world. that is what i find to be very interesting parallel between these two men. >> host: where do you see the story of the poland and the catholic church leading to today? people have moved on and declared end of history in urn europe, right and moved on from that. we have a new pope today and a story very much moved out of europe where the church is on
9:33 am
the decline. does this chapter of your book have relevance to today? >> guest: i think it does. i mean the striking thing to me when you look at the history of the catholic church and politics in the 1970s and '80s, the church is very, very effective when it is, how could i put it? when it is in the opposition. when it is not allied with forces of the state. so in the philippines, even in south korea churches play an incredibly powerful role in mobilizing opposition, organizing opposition and certainly so in eastern europe. then when you have a regular democracy, a regular secular state, for example, in poland after the fall of communism the curve became very cozy with state in poland and pols suddenly realized they didn't like that so much. they liked their church in opposition, right? in iran we see very interesting phenomenon where the church, quote, unquote, has become the
9:34 am
state. you will see many opinion polls, million studies this underminded position of islam in iran because young people grow up seeing islam as part of the establishment. islam has lost its oppositional cachet, its power to defend the powerless. it's become part of the power structure. and so what i think is fascinating the way in these cases, we've seen the power of the church to marshal opposition, but when it becomes part of the power structure it loses that ability. it becomes part of the establishment and people don't think about it in the same way and that's something i find very, very relevant in this story which continues today. >> host: it is interesting, because in the other part of your book which is one of the major themes which has to do with incredible transformation in china its roots, opposition comes from within the upper echelons of the communist party. and so you have an insurgency
9:35 am
from on high, if you will. >> guest: yes. >> host: that is the amazing story of deng show ping, xiaoping, banished in the cultural revolution, to greatest traps formations of our lifetime. in a way that this is the biggest story that you're telling. how do you crack into that when some people have tried to tell that story? >> guest: well that's a good question. i think it's a fantastic story. i think it's a story a lot of people forgotten of the just like political islam we take china as a capitalist country for granted now. we seem to have forgotten it was a very, very difficult and unlikely change. >> host: it was north korea. >> guest: exactly it was north korea. it was exactly like north korea except with a billion people making a transformation, transforming itself into something completely different.
9:36 am
at the time it started rather small. so the chinese certainly understood something was going but a lot of people in the outside world didn't and one of the things that i enjoyed very much about exploring this period people at the time did not compare china's economic reforms to the united states or western europe. the idea of a capitalist china entering the world trade organization would have probably gotten you sent to an insane asylum. people compared economic reforms to hungary or yugoslavia or east germany which seemed like the most successful, economically successful of the eastern bloc. so i think that just goes to underline how unlikely and how surprising these changes were when they happened. and as i tell in the book, a great way to tell this story in china is by going back and looking at what people were looking at at the time. i have this story where an american investor is brought to a place and told he should invest and he just sees water
9:37 am
buffalo and rice paddies. that place they took him to which is a city that has the population of new york city and your ipad was made there, right? i think there are a lot of great ways to tell the story. some people told them at the time, very, very vividly. there have been great books right at the time of these changes in china but nowadays i think people have forgotten that story. so i had a lot of fun trying to bring it back to life. >> host: that raises a question that applies both to china and i think across the stories that you look at in the book. and that is, how right or wrong were we at the time? as you looked back into it and how these stories were covered at the time and sort of instant histories that were written, did we understand the historical import of these events at the moment or were we really off the mark? >> guest: i think we missed a lot of the story at the time. the big story in 1979 for
9:38 am
americans and chinese was deng xiaoping's visit to the united states at the beginning of the 1979 which marked resumption of diplomatic relations between the two countries and it was a huge, huge event. i think the economic changes going on in china at the time which we would probably regard as much more consequential and important were largely missed because people couldn't imagine how far they would go. just missed. we didn't understand how significant they were. when the soviets made it goon began, we look at memos and we see what people were thinking in the carter white house. carter reacted quite tough to the invasion. even before the invasion he was giving covert aid to the islamic rebels who were revolting against afghan communist party government but what was, what's very interesting when you go back and look at this, people in the white house thought that this was part of some larger soviet plan. they thought it was, the soviets
9:39 am
invading czechoslovakia or hungary to shore up communist party rule. that this was an extension of the brezhnev doctrine to shore up their old authority. what they didn't understand the soviets didn't want to do this at all. they felt they were forced into the by the rapid deterioration of the situation there. they were extremely reluctant to do it. when they actually made the decision, they didn't even have a proper paper, you know, that they all signed. it was, this very vague memorandum that didn't even say what they were going to do. >> host: just like vietnam, right? >> >> guest: just like vietnam. they slid into it. they didn't want to be there. i'm not sure we understood which that was the case. we thought it was part of a grand soviet design. we didn't understand what an improvization it was. >> host: that is really interesting when you think about the extent to which the united states was involved of course as
9:40 am
a significant player in all of these stories in different ways. yet you've done something, i think really commendable for a book, you have not put the u.s. front and center of these stories although they have deep relevance both to american history and also to decision-makers today. you know, how daring of that are you being to not put the united states front and center? are we too self-involved to read a book that is about other people? >> guest: i don't know. we'll see how the book does. that's a good question though. yeah, that was a conscious decision. because i felt that as important as the united states is, it's not the only country in the world and this was a year i felt where there were a lot of other really interesting things happening in the world. the united states is a part of all these stories but it is not at the center. in many ways it is reacting to events more than it is shaping them. i thought it was important to capture that in the book.
9:41 am
i was trying with book to write a truly global book. >> host: ronald reagan for example, is not on the cover here. many people would say, well, 1979 was a crucial year. he was about to be elected president in 1980. this was the beginning of the republican revolution here in the united states. do you see reagan sitting into this story you're telling? >> guest: i would contend he wasn't really a player in 1979. he was starting to campaign against carter. he was a very important domestic american politician. i think his moment came a little bit later. that is why i didn't include him in this book. there are some very important events that presaged his era. for example, the 1979 the year the moral majority was founded here in the united states. that was the start of evangelicals, born-agains intervening directly in american politics in a way they hadn't before. that was crucial to reagan's 1980 victory. but this moment that i'm trying
9:42 am
to capture here i think is slightly earlier moment. and for that reason i haven't really brought reagan into it. i just felt that he really, he belongs to a slightly later era. gerri: tell me. >> host: tell me where you think 1979 fits in on the years that are hinges of history, the pivot points of history. the 1789s, and 1917s and 1989 and most recently, the arab spring revolution of 2011? where does 1979 on that spectrum in terms of import? are is it for long term books? will we talk about this as we do about 1789 or 1848? >> guest: i would make the case we should. it was such an important turning point. i think it marks a really important moment when the domination of the ideas from,
9:43 am
from the left, right, which really, really played a huge role in most of the 20th century. even if you weren't a communist or socialist or social democrat you invariably found yourself reacting to these ideologies. i think what we see in 1979 is the rise of, how would i put it finally viable alternative ideologies. suddenly markets are no longer just -- they are ideology, islam becomes an ideology. turns out as ideologies these things compete quite well with communism, socialism, social democracy. i was just talking to somebody the other day who read the book and he was, felt himself to be much more of a leftist but he said, will the left ever find a language that unified it the way marxism did, right? and i thought that was a very, very good question because i don't think it has.
9:44 am
i think the left is still trying to find a response to these things. and i think that's because of this year, because of the things that happened this year and the changes that this year initiated. and when we, i think maybe this epoch may be drawing to a close. when it does, the idealogical viewpoints of people have to be very, very different than what they are today. >> host: it is such an interesting point you're making. i think it's a really important one. actually most of our conversation about the death of ideas has revolved around the collapse of communism later in 1989 up to the end of the soviet union in 1991 and that conventionally speaking has come to be seen as the age, the moment when ideology died, when leftism died. you're in a sense saying no, that is actually wrong and we need to move the clock back. the death of leftist ideology was really in 1979.
9:45 am
it had this decade-long after life you could argue as events played themselves out from 1979 to 1989. that is a really interesting argument. you could say there was a new idealogical consensus giving birth in that year around markets and religion that has yet to die. that's a very interesting, new take on things. and it is certainly true that today's left is very different one than the left when we were kids. >> guest: oh, yeah. >> host: republicans love to call barack obama a socialist and talk about him as a sort of european left-winger but if reality even the european left has accepted that basic, what came to be known as the washington consensus although you're arguing really that it belongs in an earlier time period. but even the left accepts that basic principles about markets, been threatened by the last few
9:46 am
years. do you think that the, financial crash of 2008 and the ongoing trauma associated with that in europe especially could finally spell the end of that market-oriented consensus? >> guest: i think it has in many ways. as i tell people, if you're 25 in the united states today and you can't find a job and you're saddled with $100,000 with college debt, i wonder if you will believe in capitalism the way somebody did who went to college in the early 1980s and was born into a completely different world, right? i think what happened with financial crisis is that it deeply undermined a lot of your faith in capitalist institutions but again no one has found a language to bring the opposition to that, together. no one has a coherent idealogical alternative to that, right? i think barack obama is a great example. i agree he really does not fit
9:47 am
the definition of a 1970s or 1980s socialist by any stretch of the imagination. he is something very, very different. you mentioned the united kingdom. that was one of tony blair's associates who said we're all thatcherrites right now. members of the labour party saying we're all thatcherrites now. what is miss something opposite being thatcherrite. what is the coherent alternative to the market consensus. i don't think it is being a mao it. i don't think it is being a marxist leninists. there are a still few markist lenin its in the woods. >> host: people are marketeer exempt people who are religious leaders. >> guest: exactly. we all know there are big problems with system but we haven't figured out an idealogical all -- alternative.
9:48 am
>> host: your book in many ways a history of ideas and events shaped by those ideas and that is part of what makes it so an unusual book but then it does go back to this question of, you know, is it relevant still to the time we're living in? or have you capture ad moment in time that's lost? you said earlier something that is really -- 30 years has already passed since then. really if you think about it, like this, in 1979 they were as close to world war ii as they are to us today. in a way, right, you're seeing in 1979 the end of that post-world war ii era of both ideology and politics and, you know, sort of governing consensus in many of these countries. you know, the shah of iran is a good example, right? directly came to the thrown as a
9:49 am
result of his father's ill-fated, ill-advised alliance with nazis in world war ii. so you, boom, have these arrangements that came about at the end of world war ii finally reaching their end points in 1979. certainly that is true of the story of britain. >> guest: exactly. >> host: are we reaching the end point? is 30-years a life cycle of these ideologies? >> guest: i don't know. that's a great question, a great question. a lot depend on what works and what doesn't? again people need to put themselves back into the historical context. the european welfare state and to some extent the american welfare state delivered unprecedented prosperity after world war ii, right? people lived better. the working classes in europe and in the united states lived better than they ever lived before. unprecedented. and that really worked for a good 30 years. then in the 1970s with the energy crises, stagflation, the
9:50 am
west hit a wall and they needed new solutions. it was clear that old model wasn't going to work anymore for whatever reasons. i do see some very interesting parallels to that and the financial crisis because the financial crisis again showed us our unlimited faith in markets is probably not the thing. that, you know, we do need some sorts of alternatives or corrections would perhaps be a better way of putting it. and some countries have tried to put in place corrections or somehow reform their market structures. but you can't help but think that, that might not be enough to satisfy voters in this country, and europe who are now having a very, very hard time of it. the employment rate may be increasing here. but there are enormous segments of the american population not benefiting from the growth going on. you can't help but wonder whether at some.turn into a
9:51 am
fundamental discontent that has some really transformative effects but i don't know. perhaps we'll see that. >> host: when you started in on the book and it has been a long journry were there things that surprised you what you found? these are stories you came into it knowing a fair amount about? >> guest: one thing that surprises me, continues to surprise me, the extent to which a lot of people didn't really understand what was going on in china and took mooism at face value -- maoism. there is funny story when deng xiaoping comes to the white house in 1979 and carter puts on a big state dinner. he sits down with the shirley maclaine, actress, shirley mack klain. she has been to china with documentary team. she is a '70s leftist. she gushes to deng xiaoping and
9:52 am
out at this farm and met a professor working on the farm. this was part of the cultural revolution right. when mao sent all the intellectuals out to the country side. mack klain talked about how great the professor was and how the professor lofted it. xiaoping, looked at her, said that is ridiculous. professors should be teaching at universities and not planting crops. that was his verdict on the cultural revolution. a lot of china scholars bought into maoism and bought into these ideas of the that it why it was so hard to understand the reforms going on in china. if you go back to the accounts at the time, a lot of the established china scholars just didn't quite get the story. they didn't understand what they were seeing. a lost them were still wedded to these old images of maoist china. in some cases they were quite bewildered. i think that is very striking. >> host: that is argument
9:53 am
for on the ground journalism and observation, right? one of the people who you rely on was a smart british diplomat who, you know, just went out there and you know, beat the pavement as if he were a journalist. in effect interviewed people and wrote down what he saw, right? >> guest: exactly. roger garside, happy to say still alive. absolutely magnificent book that stood the test of time. some journalists wrote pretty books at time but his is hard to beat. because as you said he went out, he was on the ground. he got the story. he saw things, very, very pragmatically without idealogical lens. so he caught a lot of things other observers missed. >> host: that's interesting. so ideology can be the enemy of history? >> guest: oh, i think very much so. and i'm kind of struck when i look back at this period again by how the very idealogical people didn't understand what they were seeing. i had a very good conversation
9:54 am
with makia, as the man you might remember who wrote fantastic book about the evils of the saddam hussein regime in iraq. he was a very, very convinced leftist. he was astrut skiite. he described to me, his wife was white at time of iranian revolution. they were both trotskyist they described how completely bewildering of iranian revolution, and class struggle so much things in vogue at time you didn't understand it. it was completely nonsensical. so they tried to write articles in their trotskyite journhas explaining why the masses were temporarily being seduced by ayatollah khomeni. in the end they were completely flummoxed. he said this was the end of a lot of communist and socialist
9:55 am
believer in the middle east because it ceased to be a viable alternative. people didn't want it. >> host: that is almost an important note for us to end. we're almost out of time but not entirely. i want to throw out there this question we were debating before we came on, what is not in the book. one of the most significant things we were talking about, there is a great book, for somebody in the rise of the personal computer which happens right in the 1979, 1980 time period but do you see technology playing a role even backstage there, the hints of this new order that would come in these stories? >> guest: absolutely. absolutely. the rise of telecommunication was important. ayatollah khomeni was in exile for much of the iranian revolution. he communicated with the state-of-the-art telephone system installed for the shah. he could call be anybody at a moment's notice. that was hugely important with the iranian revolution with
9:56 am
satellites which cost came down. satellite communications were very important. you could see a lot of different levels which the technology was influencing all this. pcs were not yet there but, i think they, they are very much a part of this moment. the technological aspect really deserves to be gone into a lot more deeply than i was able to. >> host: are you, tell me, if you were to do a follow-up with book would you jump in with 1980? where is your next moment? does it go 1979 -- 1989? is that going to be the next part -- >> guest: that's a great question. i don't think i will write about a year again. i will write about something totally different. >> host: absolutely. in terms of the response you've gotten so far, what have you made of what the critics had to say? >> guest: i'm very happy with it. i think a lot of people got the book. when you write a book like this you're sitting alone in your little room. you're wondering am i a nutcase
9:57 am
or will people understand some of the points i'm trying to make here. so far i'm gratified bit response. i think at lo of people have understood exactly what i was trying to say. of course i'm making a argument to a certain degree but if you just want to read the story and examine the lives of these incredible characters and the stories that they're going through, i think that is quite enough. you don't have to buy my larger argument about ideology and counter revolutions and all that. i think you can enjoy it as a historical narrative, i hope. i tried to write a book that would have different levels. something for every everyone. >> host: well, congratulations, christian on the book. thank you again for this very interesting conversation. there is to chew over. good luck with the book tour. >> guest: thanks very much. >> that was "after words,"
9:58 am
booktv signature program with authors of latest non-fix books are interviewed by journalists public policymakers and legislators, others familiar with their material. you can also watch afterwards online. go to and click on "after words" in the booktv series and topics list on the upper right side of the page. what are you reading this summer? booktv wants to know. >> well, i have just read jonathan dee, "a thousand pardons quote, which i thought was magnificent. he wrote a book called "the privileges quote a couple years ago which i liked. this is really better. i'm starting to reed an old book called "the pity of it all." the history of the jews in germany.
9:59 am
there's a galley of a book coming out in the fall by greg easterbrook about pro-football. the title of which escapes me. i'm sorry, greg. forgive me, but i love him. i think he is fabulous writer. i can't wait to dig into that. and there's a book that just came out by a really, really smart psychologist at university of pennsylvania called adrian rains about the biological roots of crime. that i'm dying to read as well. so that is my summer reading list. >> let us know what you're reading this summer. tweet us@booktv. boast it on your facebook page or send us an e-mail at >> conrad black is next on "book tv." mr. black describes the emergence of the united states as a world power, as a series of strategic decisions that occurred in phases, rather than
10:00 am
an accident in geography and demographics. this is about 45 minutes. >> the name of the book is flight of the eagle. it is published by encounter. at author, conrad black who joins us now from toronto. mr. black, what were you trying to do with this book, this history of the united states? >> peter, i was trying to present the perspective, the historical perspective of the important decisions american statesmen have made at each stage in the progress of the country of colonial status to position of inparalleled preeminence in the history of the nation-state in period of 200 years. there is very


info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on